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Da Vinci Code, The

dir: Ron Howard
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I’m not of the inclination or the right mood to criticise the at least forty million people that bought copies of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Riding on public transport requires reading material, so whether it’s the latest Harry Potter trotter, geisha memoirs or some highbrow crap by Martin Amis or Camille Paglia is irrelevant to me. It’s up to the individual to decide what’s going to distract them adequately from the knowledge that soon they’ll be at the unsatisfying job that daily brings them so much closer to suicide.

Anything else is just sneering snobbery. Which is, nonetheless, quite enjoyable as a hobby.

Brown’s books have sold like cocaine, so by default movie versions become mandatory. And, for such a popular novel, it dictates (according to some commentary I’ve read) that the film plot adhere strictly to the novel, because variation or divergence would be seen (ironically enough) as heresy.

As such, we get a two hour and 40 minute lumbering, ludicrous monstrosity of a flick that brings new depths to the use of the term ‘highly dubious’.

Tom Hanks plays less a variation on the characters he’s played elsewhere, and more of a demo version of himself. In the same way that trial versions of software have reduced functionality and more of a bare-bones feel, so, too, is Hanks’ performance here of the shareware variety. Maybe we needed to pay more to get the complete version. At best his performance is adequate. At worst his irritation with some of the more idiotic things he has to say shines through like the sun through morning fog.

And really, he has to utter some pretty lame dialogue. Excruciating dialogue. And his character has to be the most tissue-thin portrait I’ve seen this year. I watched the film attentively for all its length, and all I can tell you about his character is that Robert Langdon is a Professor of Symbology, and when he was 7, he fell down a well. That’s all. We’re given nothing else, with no reason to believe he exists as an actual character, or to care what he does and what happens to him.

Audrey Tautou is in this as a character called Sophie. The only reason Audrey is in this is because she is French and because Juliette Binoche is presumably too old for the role. As the most famous and cutest French actress familiar to Western audiences currently, hers is the heavy task to sullenly parade through most of the film there only to be able to give Hanks’ character someone to talk to. So she has to keep saying stuff like: “I don’t understand”, or “What does that mean?” in order to give Langdon a reason to start spouting exposition. And by God does he spout exposition.

The pair are pursued both by a nasty cop (Jean Reno) and by an albino assassin called Silas (Paul Bettany) as they try to unravel a mystery that most of us worked out in the first five minutes.

A murder at the Louvre brings Langdon to the famous Parisian museum, where the curator has left some idiotic clues for the hero to follow. The curator, after being shot by the albino, robe-clad assassin, has the time to write a bunch of messages around the place, hide a magical key and then strip himself down whilst carving symbols into his own body. I can think of some simpler ways to get things done.

By happenstance or design, Langdon and Sophie are thrown together by fate and pursuit and, in an agonising manner, proceed to solve the mystery of the ages which threatens to throw the world into turmoil by lumbering around Europe for the next two and a half hours.

Each plot point connects to the next in the most contrived fashion that you can imagine, which I guess isn’t that much of a problem in the book, but it looks pretty dumb onscreen. It doesn’t really feel like a tense, densely plotted mystery-thriller. It feels more like a bad pantomime. I’m not sure what good pantomime is like, not being an aficionado of the genre, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t it.

The central mystery regarding the Holy Grail, and what the Grail really is, is interwoven with elements from actual history in such a way that plenty of people have been seduced into thinking that there may be something to all of this nonsense. Knights Templar, the Crusades, the Council of Nicaea, inquisitions, witch hunts, the whole kit and kaboodle. I think Jesus scores a few mentions as well.

Arguing over whether the content of this fictional story is true or at least credible or not to me is ridiculous. Debating the merits of one fictional fantasy in relation to another is absurd. At least for me, the film fails to get me to be even interested if only for the flick’s duration. That’s the sense in which it lacks credibility.

The film may have cost $125 million to produce, and have really good effects and editing, but that didn’t make it any easier to sit through or leave me with anything worthwhile apart from a determination to never see an adaptation of a Dan Brown book at the cinema again.

On their travels the two main characters come across, quite by accident, an old colleague of Langdon’s who gives them safe passage and at least half an hour of exposition. Sir Ian McKellen, as Sir Leigh Teebing, may indeed be a great actor, but in this, whilst his presence is welcome, he is a ham of the highest order. So much onscreen mugging went on that I felt like a San Paolo streetkid.

With the albino assassin not being enough, the film needs at least fifteen other villains to amp up the menace, mostly made up of misguided religious types trying desperately to stave off the revelation of the greatest story never told. A creepy bishop (Alfred Molina), who has the albino as a pet, unleashes murder and mayhem with the intention of retaining the Church’s power in the temporal realm. As one of the high ups in Opus Dei, a conservative part of the Catholic church, he is appointed the task of guarding the Church’s darkest secret. As far as acting or processed meats go, Molina is a triple smoked ham, even out-hamming Gandalf.

The rest of the plot really doesn’t need to be related. I’ll leave it to you to be surprised, delighted or mortified by what goes on. That such a story has so much traction with people astounds me. It is as if I live in a world where Umberto Eco doesn’t exist, and Foucault’s Pendulum was never written. I actually get the feeling that Dan Brown had someone read Pendulum to him, from which he perverted the premise and delivered this steaming pile of pseudo-heresy.

For those who have never heard of Eco’s book, it could be easier to describe it as a book whose story contends that the idea of secret societies and conspiracy-laden cabals has had far more influence on human history than the actual existence of such organisations. That people would rather believe in grand schemes (whether it be the comfort brought by dogmatically following religions or cults, or elaborate conspiracy theories) than accept the mundanity of existence and the banality of everyday life.

This film is less an attack on Christianity or Catholicism that it is an exploitation of the gullibility of its audience. Just like Christianity. So the accusations of the pious don’t really wash in this context. The film goes to great lengths to represent that the operators on the Church’s side are not acting in an official Vatican capacity (as in, there aren’t any scenes of the Pope acting like the Godfather, sending out minions to off the Church’s enemies like flying monkeys out of the windows of St Peter’s Basilica. The albino assassin, Silas, who was the only character I liked, is hardly an official of the Church. And in the end we find out than even those nasty members of Opus Dei were being manipulated by a darker power. So the Church, in an added weakness of an already weak production, is let off the hook even more so.

I’m struggling to think of the positives. There are a few scenes of historical recreation, and some elaborate CGI sequences where the hero nuts out a problem with a swirling accompaniment of imagery that looked okay. The musical score, overdone and overused, is actually a bit enjoyable. And Audrey Tautou is so fucking cute that it hurts. Sir Ian is always a delight. Um, I enjoyed the scenes where the albino flagellates himself. And when he does the nasty with a nun, that was good, too.

But the rest is a dead loss. A totally ridiculous and nonsensical premise at the mercy of an idiotic plot, guided by unbelievable direction, deathly dialogue and turgid exposition. You will learn nothing from this movie apart from how gullible you are. But for the Christians out there, it doesn’t make your beliefs any more or less believable. Fiction is fiction, no matter how old it is and no matter how many buy it. The world was no flatter when everyone on the planet believed it, so don’t go getting all smug or anything.

4 times moments that I wonder how gullible humanity really is, and how I can exploit it out of 10

--
Lisa: "The mound builders worshipped turtles as well as badgers, snakes, and other animals."
Bart: "Thank God we've come to our senses and worship a carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago." – The Simpsons

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